Architect Herbert Fowler’s course designs at famous locations like The Berkshire, Saunton and Walton Heath are well known to many in the golf world but he was also involved in other lower profile projects, such as the course at West Surrey Golf Club.
Derek Markham’s West Surrey Golf Club Centenary book, entitled Playing Through, refers to a column in The Surrey Advertiser and County Times from 7th May 1910:
“The new links of the West Surrey Golf Club, which have been in course of construction for about two years on land which formed part of the Enton Estate, are to be formally opened on Thursday, June 9th.
The course, which is an 18-hole with three very fine short holes, is of an excellent length of about 6,300 yards, and occupies some 187 acres of freehold land, the property of the Golf Club Company.
It was originally laid out by the well-known champion J.H. Taylor, and the greens were designed by Mr. W. Herbert Fowler, Chairman of the Walton Heath Golf Club, who superintended the construction of the course and the formation of the club.”
Elsewhere in the book, the author states: “The role of J.H. Taylor in the creation of the West Surrey course has been somewhat overshadowed by the higher reputation for course design enjoyed by Fowler at the time. Whatever the individual contributions of Taylor and Fowler to the establishment of West Surrey on the golfing map, the Club could only benefit from such distinguished combined expertise.”
At the grand opening of the golf course, the young West Surrey professional Fred Robson and Charles Johns, the Ashford Manor professional, teamed up to play a couple of exhibition matches against none other than J.H. Taylor and James Braid, both of whom would eventually claim five Open Championship titles.
For the best part of a century, the layout remained largely intact (apart from during World War II when the clubhouse was requisitioned as a base for Canadian soldiers and four fairways were turned over to crop production) until 2002, when a fairway irrigation system was installed, all putting surfaces were converted to USGA-specification greens and a number of holes were lengthened.
Nowadays, the course extends to just less than 6,500 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 71. Both nines end with straightforward par fives, each of which offers a good chance of picking up a birdie. Architect Ken Moodie of Creative Golf Design was engaged in 2016 to renovate the course and he embarked on an ambitious project to selectively clear trees around the property and redesign fairway and greenside bunkers.
Parachute West Surrey ten miles to the west and it would comfortably sit in the Hampshire Best in County Top 10. Unfortunately, from a ranking perspective, the club is located in Surrey.
Even a first-class Ken Moodie bunker renovation, which erased a former captain's half-moon folly bunker at #8 and replaced it with two delightful traps (one left and one right of the green, plus a steep apron) may not be enough to promote West Surrey into the county’s Top 20, such is Surrey's strength in depth.
Parkland courses are Britain’s poor relations when compared to links and heathland tracks. Of course Surrey does not have a coastline, but it does enjoy a lion's share of sand that cuts swathe through the entire county. West Surrey therefore can't compete with the likes of Sunningdale, St George’s Hill, or a plethora of clubs with names beginning with W, but it could legitimately claim to be the second or third best parkland course in the county. If such a parkland list existed for say Britain & Ireland, West Surrey would sit comfortably within the Top 50.
Incidentally, I played West Surrey with Jim McCann and T.P. Dean (four years apart), who posted the two reviews below this one, so I don't need to say much about the course, but a 4-ball rating (Good) may not at first glance appear to do the course justice. It’s certainly a better course than when I first played here with Jim in 2017, not least due to the terrific bunker renovation, but also as a result of an ongoing tree management programme.
But for those eagle-eyed reviewers who actually read (and adhere to) Top 100’s rating definition, a 4-ball score is a perfect fit for West Surrey: “A good course to seek out if in the area, meriting a full day out.”
N.B. Short par four 8th “before” and "after" bunker renovation pics below.
A love affair with golf courses that started more than 30 years ago. Presumably you were still in short trousers? My own drunken fumble began more recently - a direct consequence of diving down your Top 100 rabbit hole. I felt like Peter Alliss in Wonderland.
You and your team did the click down from the usual suspects ranking lists. This enabled passionate golfers around the world to broaden horizons and discover interesting golf courses. Not just in far off places but also in our own backyards.
Planning trips to play Herbert Fowler gems like West Surrey is a perfect example of this. And it’s a legacy that will endure. Thanks again for the impossible aspirations and endless possibilities. Sir Keith of Baxter, Knight of the Golfing Realm.
I often see the cliched statement that ‘If course X was located in Surrey, then it would be rated much higher’. I’d actually argue for the contrary - better to be a big fish in a small pond, and I think West Surrey Golf Club reinforces my position on this matter. To my mind, West Surrey doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves due to the strength in depth of Surrey as England’s premier golfing county. So if you do decide to take a detour from the famed Surrey heathlands, visitors will find a gem of a golf course through its gates. But it’s the members here that are the real winners. West Surrey Golf Club is also the owner of three quality hardcourt tennis courts as well as a recently and beautifully refurbished clubhouse interior. It’s exactly the kind of place where you could lounge on the sofas all afternoon with friends or alternatively somewhere to enjoy your own company with a newspaper and a pot of tea.
And the course itself isn’t too shabby either. It’s a lovely layout that’s been transformed by its recent bunker renovation. The wacky bunkering from a bygone era has now disappeared, and it’s been replaced by a fine example of strategic bunkering. Rarely have I found myself mentally challenged on the tee to this extent, all due to how the bunkers are located, staggered and angled. I loved how many of the bunkers pop up out of the ground and provide additional visual intimidation too. Like most of us, I don’t possess the game to execute my strategy from the tee on each occasion, but it’s fun to be asked the question once in a while, and West Surrey does just that.
The course dances around a treelined property, very much in the traditional parkland sense, with the tightly mown aprons setting the course apart from many other parklands. It’s also a course that makes good use of the undulating ground that the holes occupy. The course itself starts sternly with three testing par fours well over 400-yards coming early in the round, but it does start to ease up after the 7th when more scoring opportunities are offered. It’s also balanced out with some par fives that are all reachable with two good strikes.
I felt the par threes were a strong point of the property, with the wonderfully guarded 5th with its slanted green and the 12th with its back to front tilted green being the pick of them. Other holes are enhanced with grassy knolls or grass bunkers that traverse the fairways, used to good effect on holes 9 and 11, and something I feel is often under utilised in golf course design. The centreline bunkers on the short par fours at the undulating 8th and split fairway 13th are also creative ways of forcing strategic thinking from the tee where a choice must be made before hitting your tee shot.
There is still room for improvement, the course would benefit with some tree clearance in some areas, most noticeably on the last three holes, and 17 remains a slightly strange hole that passes through a large drop in elevation before a heavy climb up to the green. The club is currently in observation mode as to how to make changes to that hole, primarily due to the disruption the members have already endured with the bunker renovation over previous years, but from the solid changes that have been made to the other holes, the future of the course will be in safe hands when the time comes to remodel 17.
West Surrey will never have the turf conditions or be blessed with the abundance of heather that many of Surrey’s top ranked courses do, but what it lacks in raw ingredients, it makes up in course strategy and upkeep. Definitely one to seek out if you’re looking to add a little variety to a trip to the Surrey area with a high-class parkland venue. But do allow for a little extra time to enjoy the atmosphere in the clubhouse, it's a club you'll want to enjoy at your leisure rather than rushing onto the next course on your itinerary.
Architect Ken Moodie was appointed to upgrade the West Surrey course in 2016 and he’s made an impressive start, completing the first phase of a 5-year programme with the renovation of bunkers on four of the holes. The club was keen to show off what had been done so far so I joined editor-in-chief Keith Baxter and a couple of committee members early one morning last week to have a look at the latest course improvements.
Bunkers on the opening and closing holes have been reconstructed but it’s the new sand hazards on the par three holes at the 2nd and 12th holes that really catch the eye. In particular, the greensite of the 161-yard 12th has been completely redesigned and the old half-moon bunker in front of the green has been replaced with ragged-edged hazards now positioned to allow a bail out area for the tee shot in front of the putting surface.
Two holes stood out for me (for completely different reasons) on the front nine: the par three 5th is a terrific short hole, played slightly uphill to a green that slants deceptively from left to right, and the short par four 8th, which rises steeply to a green that’s fronted by an enormous horseshoe-shaped bunker – this rather incongruous sand hazard reminded me of something Seth Raynor might have built on the east coast of America during the 1920s and hopefully it’s a feature that will be toned down if it’s remodelled.
On the back nine, the aforementioned newly revamped 12th and short par four 13th (with its split fairway and centre bunkers) were the best on the card but I can see why the 17th has been described as a “marmite hole” with its fairway falling from the tee then rising abruptly left as it narrows towards a green that’s set back on a ridge. The 18th then sets off for home from a wonderfully elevated tee position, with the par five plunging steeply downhill towards the lovely old clubhouse.
West Surrey suffers from its location in relation to ranking charts as its current position of #22 in a very strong golfing county would translate into a Top 10 placement in any of the adjoining counties. The course is well laid out within a large property that’s free of any residential interference, it’s maintained to a very high standard – the greens were easily the best that I played on during my 6-course visit to the area last week – and there’s an ambitious renovation programme firmly in place, which can only enhance the club’s already enviable reputation as one the leading lights in Surrey’s golfing landscape.
First visit in over 20 years and I genuinely didn’t remember the course being this good. Obviously Surrey has so many great courses, including 20% of the best in country (2014) and I think that West Surrey is in the next tier. Breaking into the Top 20 of this great county is not going to be easy but not impossible – the current presentation and conditioning of the course is very high and according to some members that I met, as good as they can remember.
This club is traditional with a capital ‘T’ and already have 100 years of history in their locker but is does now appear that the attitude is to move with the times (a little) and try to raise awareness of the club and attract some new visitors. As well as the presentation, I think there are some really decent holes…
The par-5 6th at 528 yards is my pick on the front nine; an inviting drive from an elevated tee leaves a lay-up to be thought about – a lone tree down the left-side pushes the second shot towards a bunker 50 yards short of the green, very clever design.
There is a great little half-way house after the 8th and then again after the 11th – it is not un-common to stop here twice, the members suggest the egg/bacon roll on first stop, then the toasted tea cake three holes later!
The par-4 14th is a strong hole, fairway bunkers, a dog-legging fairway to the right and a slippery green make this under 400 yard hole the SI-2. The 17th hole may split opinion; a par-4 played into a valley and then uphill to the left may not been seen as a fair hole right now but some tree removal on the second half of the fairway on the left, will allow the whole green to be seen; worth thinking about.
The 18th tee is worth spending a few minutes on; ahead of playing this SI-18 par-5, take in the views which are rather nice. It will be interesting to see the next version of the Surrey rankings and I think that the positions 20-25 are all up for grabs, with West Surrey towards the top of these.